There seems to be a new development in the world of the Hollywood remakes. In an attempt to distance them from the original, they will make the new story as unique as possible while simultaneously putting in subtle nods and homages to the source material, meeting with varying degrees of success. In the case of Les Wiseman’s adaptation of Total Recall, however, perhaps he should have let the original stand for itself.
We open with some backstory about how there was major chemical warfare in the not too distant future. As a result, nearly every place on Earth is completely uninhabitable save for Great Britain and Australia. Although these are very interesting choices, it is clear that the only reason that these two were chosen is out of contrivance for the film’s main plot vessel, “The Fall;” a would-be-subway system that travels between the two continents via the planet core. Although the physics of such a transport vessel are jarring and push the boundaries of suspended disbelief, the originality and scope of such an undertaking is commendable and enjoyable.
The story opens with Douglas Quaid, played by Colin Farrell, and Melina, played by Jessica Biel, making a daring escape in a government facility. Quaid is captured by agents, only to awaken from a dream sequence in bed next to his lovely wife Lori, played by Kate Beckinsdale. After a brief conversation about the dream, we are shown that Quaid is an assembly worker constructing synthetic life forms that bolster both the military and police force of Britain and Australia, referred to as the United Federation of Britain, or UFB, and the Colony. Fed up with his existence but lacking the funds to make any true, drastic changes, Quaid goes to ReKall; a company who specializes in creating exotic memories for its patrons as an extreme form of escapism.After a malfunction, Quaid is taken on a rollercoaster ride that will completely alter everything he thinks he knows about reality.
The visuals presented in this movie are both stunning and enthralling. With environments that would put nearly all science fiction opuses of all mediums to shame with their scope and awe, the audience is immersed in a world that, despite its size, has a great deal to offer. The Colony seems to have a mix of the slums of South Africa, crowded streets that come to mind when one thinks of Southeast Asia, and high level skyscrapers to keep people together like many modern metropolises. The UBF has a look and feel similar to Star Wars’ planet Coruscant with its bustling city that, despite its crowding, never causes its citizens to seem packed or frustrating.
All of the camera work and scenes are completely interesting and enjoyable for the audience. The acting in the film is also quite superb. Although Cohaagan, played by Bryan Cranston is the film’s lead antagonist, Beckinsdale steals the show. As a true villain, she is there at every step of the hero’s journey, nearly killing them at every turn. The dialogue is both stimulating and provocative; as we aren’t sure as to just what is real and what isn’t, we are forced to wonder about every character’s true desires and motivations. The audience will watch for every subtle bit of body language in attempt to discern the truth. That is, unless you saw the Schwarzenegger movie, in which case you know everything before it happens.
Despite the distinct potential for originality, the story never strays too much from its source material. There are a few nods to the original of note that most fans will notice and appreciate, but that is where it should have stopped. Instead of feeling like an homage, it feels as though the writers and director had a decent science fiction film that wasn’t quite flushed out enough to be its own movie. So to make it seem bigger, they borrowed major parts from another, more successful and interesting film. The movie in of itself isn’t bad per se, but it feels unfinished. By using major plot points from the original film in its current setting, they often gloss over them without giving them the proper build up that make such twists and developments as impactful as they needed to be. As a result, it feels as though we are not being given a satisfactory homage or a complete stand-alone movie that will please neither fans of the original or the completely uninitiated.